VA Healthcare and Veterans’ Benefits
Evan Thompson is the District Commander for the American Legion of Cleveland and Rutherford Counties. Evan took the time out of his schedule to discuss with me the needs of our veterans in the community. We also touched on how you can get involved in the American Legion and how groups such as those are serving veterans in their respective communities.
Evan has a rich background stemming from his time spent in the Marine Corps, and when he came out of the Marine Corps, he joined the North Carolina Air National Guard, which he would later claim was not a smart move for him. After realizing this, Evan went to the Marine Reserves where he spent one year before moving on to the Army Reserves in 1976.
What were your duties as part of the Army Reserves?
I was an infantry training instructor, so I taught things like mechanized infantry, 50-caliber machine guns, and things like that. I stayed in the Army Reserve until 1992, and during that time I went back on active duty with the Army and I spent one extended tour at Fort Jackson training soldiers for an entire training cycle. I also did a tour of duty at Anniston, Alabama, at the Chemical and Biological Warfare Center. I therefore had a very long career, 23 years. I retired in 1992 as a Brigade Sergeant Major with the rank of Command Sergeant Major. I enjoyed it all, and I loved my military service. I think military service gives people skills that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Now you’re in the American Legion, working as the District Commander. Let’s talk about some of the great things the American Legion does.
The American Legion is such a great organization, and I have only one regret about it: that I didn’t join earlier than I actually did. I’ve only been a member 5 years and had I known what the American Legion does, how beneficial it is to veterans, I would have joined a long time ago. So I think one of the best things a veteran can do today is join the American Legion.
There are obviously a number of veteran service organization, such as the Marine Corps League, the VFW, DAV, all those are great organizations; but the American Legion is the largest veteran service organization boasting a membership of over 2.4 million not only in the United States but in foreign countries, as well. The American Legion is also based on four pillars, which really determine what the Legion does. They are: Americanism, national security, children and youth, and veterans and veterans’ benefits. To give you an idea of what’s in those pillars, for instance, one of the main programs from the Americanism pillar is our baseball program, and we’re fortunate in Shelby, NC, to be the home of the American Legion World Series. That is a tremendous honor and it’s something that not too many services can boast. The Series brings so much to the economy of Cleveland Country during that time of year, and the support from the community and volunteers is incredible.
What are some other benefits offered by the American Legion?
Of course, things we like to really focus on in the American Legion is helping our veterans and helping our youth. These can be children or grandchildren of veterans, but it’s not limited to that. That’s one thing about the American Legion: you don’t have to be a member to get the benefits that the Legion has to provide. One thing I want to point out to everyone regards the GI Bill; the American Legion is responsible for bringing that piece of legislation about. That’s been a very important piece of legislation in many veterans’ lives. I know for me, when I got out of the service, I already had my Bachelor’s, but I got my Master’s degree, then worked on my 6-year Specialist degree, then I had some time left and went back to get an Associate’s, followed by some work on my Doctorate. The GI Bill paid for most of that, which is a tremendous benefit.
The Legion is also responsible for the development of the legislation that brought about the VA Healthcare system, and so lots of veterans enjoy benefits from that. So if you are a veteran and not tried to enter the VA Healthcare system, you need to make an application to that.
Many veterans who are just coming out of their service don’t know about this system and what is available to them. It could be because they don’t have major healthcare issues at the time. But one thing about eligibility is you have to have served over 180 days of active duty to be eligible, and then the healthcare system has categories. There are 8 categories, and based on your physical condition, whether or not you served in combat, whether you have a service-connected disability, and others all determine the category that you’re placed into. From there, if you’re in category 8 like I am – I don’t have any disabilities connected to my service – you’d thus have to pay co-pays as a result, which are very small. Pretty soon, I’m going to be able to get hearing aids, which I need badly and the VA is going to pay for all of that. That’s a tremendous savings for me, all because I was a veteran.
How does one get into the American Legion?
To be qualified for the American Legion, you have to have at least one day of service during a war time period. Now, there are very few periods that were not war time periods since 1917. One period in there is between 1955 and 1960, we were not engaged in conflicts anywhere. So those are the veterans that kind of fall through the cracks when it comes to being a member of the American Legion, but this is just the way that Congress chartered the American Legion. There’s nothing we can do about it; we’d love to have you as a member, but according to the charter, you’re not qualified.
So if you would like to become a member of the American Legion and you qualify as such, there are several things you can do. Many times, you’ll get information as a veteran from the American Legion and you can sign up, but when you do that, you’re not assigned to your local post. You’re assigned to a pool of American Legion members down in Raleigh. What I can do for you is if you happen to be in that situation – and there are quite a few people that are in that situation – if you’d like to transfer to Post 82, then I can do that for you. You just need to give me a call at (704) 484-2902. If you want to become a member, you can call that same number. The reason we use that number is we don’t have anyone down at the post during the day; we meet once a month on the second Monday of each month, so there’s no one there at the post most of the time. We therefore give out my phone number for people to call, and I’d certainly love to have you as a member of the American Legion. This is what we’re here for: we’re here to serve vets, and if you become a member, then you’ll be serving other vets.
What are some of the other programs available?
One of the incredible programs we have under the youth pillar is called Boys’ State, which is a great program we have down at Catawba College to train young men who want to learn more about the government of the state and the country. It’s a good item to have on your application for college, too, especially if the young men are applying to a military academy. You’re given ten additional points for entry if you’re completed Boys’ State.
Another thing we carry on is the Oratorical Contest every year. Students from all the local high schools can get involved in this contest, and if they win and go all the way up to the national competition, they can win up to an $18,000 scholarship. The Contest is coming up and will be held locally at Ascension Lutheran Church on January 9. So if you are a local high school student and are interested in being a part of the Oratorical Contest, then you need to talk with your school counselor, because we’ve already put out information to all the local high schools about the contest. You need to then get your speech planned, so time is limited on this program.
I can only encourage people to become a part of the American Legion because it’s an organization that I’m totally dedicated to, and I’m willing at any point in time to help any veteran in any way that I can. As District Commander, I have 8 posts under my jurisdiction, and those are posts all the way from Chimney Rock down to King’s Mountain. I’m not the commander of those posts, but I help the post in every way that I can. I’ve become the liaison between the State Department American Legion and the local posts.
Our meetings are once a month, the second Monday night of each month. So if you can’t contact me, feel free to come to our post. It’s at 1628 South Lafayette Street in Shelby. We’d love to have you as a guest! We always have a meal before our meetings, too. Our Christmas party is coming up, so it’s going to be a little different for this year’s party. We’re growing, and we’re about to outgrow it, which is why we’re having this year’s party over at the VFW.
If you’d like more information about these benefits, please contact our office at (704) 259-7040, and we can get the Veterans’ Aid and Attendance information out to you, as well as American Legion information to you.
As a reminder to my readers and listeners, Veterans’ Aid and Attendance benefits are provided to veterans who have served at least one day of war time service. This doesn’t mean they have to be in a combat zone – they could be stationed in Nebraska at an Air Force Base. But they have one day during a war time event, and they meet the proper criteria: they have a healthcare situation where they may have someone caring for them at home, such as a husband or wife. It could also be a nursing home or assisted living situation, and it can add a max benefit of around $2,800 to the income of the veterans that are married. It’s a great way to help care for the veterans, even adding income to the mix when a spouse is caring for the veteran. It’s also available for the spouse of a veteran or the spouse of a deceased veteran, as well.
That said, McIntyre Elder Law handles Veterans’ Aid and Attendance applications, and we do so free of charge for the veteran. We charge for the planning associated around that, such as the elements that go into the estate planning, but we do handle these matters right in our office. I am a certified attorney with the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the only one in Cleveland and Lincoln county. I’m very proud to be a certified attorney through the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs for those purposes.
Call me if you have any questions:
Elder Law Attorney
McIntyre Elder Law
123 W. Marion Street, Shelby